Elaine Sisman's AMS Plenary Lecture

Elaine Sisman

The 2017 AMS President’s Endowed Plenary Lecture will be delivered at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday 9 November, immediately preceding the traditional opening reception. Elaine Sisman will present the lecture “Working Titles, Sticky Notes, Red Threads.” Sisman describes it as follows: "I have found the titles that composers bestow or that their compositions acquire an irresistible stimulus to research. Because musical titles, score inscriptions, and genres themselves are by no means transparent to the work, they have always been contested terrain for studying meaning and reception: philosopher Arnold Berleant even argues that 'Instead of titles telling us what the music means, the music tells us what the titles mean.' The sometimes entertainingly nasty contributions to the field of 'title theory' from the eighteenth century (e.g. Diderot, Lessing, D'Israeli) to the present (e.g. Adorno, Hollander, Levinson, Ferry, Yeazell) have yielded highly divergent results not entirely explained by differences in the forms of art, while recent title-inflected studies in music (e.g. Cypess, Brittan, Ossi) have uncovered an extraordinary range of desires and practices. This talk reopens the issues arising from Haydn's powerfully expressive but diversely titled Andante with Variations in F minor (1793), called both 'Sonate' and 'Un piccolo divertimento' by the composer and 'almost a free Fantasy' by its first reviewer (1799). Newly identified threads connect the work as an exemplar of Haydn's late style to Müller's Kunstgalerie in Vienna with its mechanical music by Mozart, to Burney's social circle and the didactic poetry of the London scene, to Beethoven's funeral marches, 'Moonlight' sonata, and Pastoral Symphony, as well as to Schubert's late music and beyond. What emerges, I propose, might be termed 'thick inscription.'"

Elaine Sisman studied piano and modern dance at the Juilliard School's pre-college division, studied with Malcolm Bilson and James Webster at Cornell (B.A. 1972), and in 1978 became the first woman to receive the PhD in music history from Princeton, working with Kenneth Levy, Harry Powers, and Lewis Lockwood. After five years of teaching at the University of Michigan, she came to Columbia, where she is now the Anne Parsons Bender Professor of Music. She has chaired her department and the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, receiving the Great Teacher Award and the award for Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum. Sisman's numerous publications include the recent articles "Haydn's Solar Poetics: The Tageszeiten Symphonies and Enlightenment Knowledge" in JAMS and "Music and the Labyrinth of Melancholy" in the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies. Some influential older studies include "Small and Expanded Forms" (Einstein Award, 1983), "Haydn's Theater Symphonies" (1990), Haydn and the Classical Variation (1993), Mozart: The 'Jupiter' Symphony (1993), "Pathos and the Pathétique" (1994), "Variations" (New Grove), "Memory and Invention at the Threshold of Beethoven's Late Style" (2000), and "The Marriages of Don Giovanni" (2006). In addition to serving as Vice President (2001-02) and President of the AMS (2005-06), Sisman has chaired the Kinkeldey Award Committee, had an instrumental role in the OPUS campaign, and served as AMS delegate to the ACLS. The Society elected her to Honorary Membership in 2011. A member of the Joseph Haydn-Institut, Cologne, and the Akademie für Mozartforschung, Salzburg, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2014.

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